Using social media to engage with fans and loyal customers has become a routine practice for most brands, and one that is applauded when well executed. However, a recent study out of the UK cracks down on food companies’ use of social media and mobile apps to push unhealthy food products to young children.
In 2007, the food industry was forced to change the way it marketed products to children, but certain companies are using social media as a loophole to market to young kids. UK brands Swizzels, Matlow, Chewits, Cadbury, and Weetos have posted “advergames” on their websites, which are easily accessible to children using tablets and smartphones. The success of these interactive ads was seen when in June 2012, when Coca-Cola and McDonald’s collaborated to produce their free “Crabs and Penguins” mobile game, which targeted children as young as four. L2’s recent Digital IQ Index: Food study found that such engaging digital games see great results from food companies’ mobile audience. In a study of 85 brands, the report found that Oreo’s “Twist, Lick, Dunk” app uses gamification to draw one of the highest mobile app ratings of all the Index brands, 4.5 stars, on the iTunes store.
Food companies not only use such “advergames” to increase brand engagement, but they also utilize Facebook to reach out to consumers. Sweet treat brand Chewits and Swizzels Matlow wished ‘happy birthday’ to children on the site, then proceeded to push their latest products. The UK’s Local Government Association (LGA) is calling foul play on such practices and is pushing for pop-up health warnings to accompany advergames.